Patriot War of 1837
The Canadian Rebellion
The Hunters' Lodges
Extracted in part from the L. N. Fuller articles dated
Copyright 1923, Watertown Daily Times
Members of the Hunters Lodges were pledged to seek a republican form of government for Canadians. The oath that was taken by each Hunter on his initiation:
"I solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God and this lodge of Hunters that I will not give the secrets of this degree, or any secret that may come to my knowledge, in the body of this lodge, to any person to whom they do not justly and lawfully belong…that I will not write, print, stain, stamp, hue, scratch, indent, or engrave upon anything whereby the secrets of this degree may be unlawfully obtained….
I pledge my life, my property, and my sacred honor to the Association; I bind myself to its interests, and I promise, until death, that I will attack, combat, and help to destroy, by all means that my superior may think proper, every power, authority, of Royal origin, upon this continent; and especially never to rest till all the tyrants of Britain cease to have any dominion or footing in North America.
I further solemnly swear to obey the orders delivered to me by my superior, and never to disclose any such order, or orders, except to a brother "Hunter" of the same degree. So help me God."
In September 1838 a convention of the Lodges of Ohio and Michigan was held in Cleveland Ohio, where the ”Republican Government of Upper Canada" was formed.
A. D. Smith, a former resident of Upper Canada who was the Chief Justice of the Peace of Cleveland was elected as the "President of the Republic of Canada". Colonel Nathan Williams of the Ohio Militia was elected as Vice-President and Donald McLeod was chosen as the Secretary of War. Smith claimed that the Hunters had twenty-five thousand men ready to bear arms to "liberate" Canada. Two Grand Lodges of Hunters were formed Cleveland, Ohio - Grand Lodge headquarters of in the West. Rochester, New York - Grand Lodge headquarters in the East.
There were four degrees taken by the Hunters, each including a lengthy oath. Signs used to identify and recognize each other were as follows:
- Snowshoe - Snowshoes pinched each other’s coat sleeves when shaking hands.
- Beaver - Beavers gnawed their thumbs in imitation of a beaver.
- Master Hunter
- Patriot Hunter - Patriots scratched their snuffboxes.
In theory, privates in the organization used the first degree, commissioned officers the second, field officers the third, and commanders-in-chief, the fourth. In reality almost all members received all four degrees.
The Hunters were deadly serious and were well organized, especially in the Northeastern United States. Members were initiated on their knees, while wearing a blindfold, and swore an oath not to reveal any secrets under penalty of having their throats cut and their houses burned if they disobeyed orders.
They were warned to be on guard against strangers claiming to be Hunters and were told to use the "Hunters Trap" when unsure of anyone. The trap consisted of asking the person to make the sign of the Snowshoe. If he attempted to draw a picture of a snowshoe he would then have revealed himself as an impostor, since to draw the picture would be a direct violation of the oath that he had taken when initiated.
Hunters had their own banking, newspaper, secret cipher, and flag.
The flag was an eagle - which represented the United States, swooping down and clutching a lion - which represented Great Britain, and two stars on the flag were symbolic of two new Canadian republics comprising the former Upper and Lower Canada’s. Their motto was "liberty or death.”
In New York State three of the most prominent Hunters were:
- Colonel Martin Woodruff
- Sheriff of Onondaga County New York, and a colonel in the New York State Militia.
- Colonel Dorephus Abbey
- Newspaper Editor from Pamelia in Jefferson County New York.
- General John Ward Birge
- Member of the Onondaga County Hunters Lodge, and the appointed leader of the Hunters forces. He was appointed the leader of the invasion force but at the last minute he was put ashore because of illness. Niles Szoltevsky Von Schoultz would lead Battle of the Windmill.